Twenty-one years is a long lapse, but rocker Juliana Hatfield, born in Wiscasset, never really went away.
This week the Boston-based musician, who rocketed to fame in the ’90s with songs like “My Sister,” “Spin the Bottle” and graced the cover of Spin Magazine in 1994, released a new album with her band The Juliana Hatfield Three this week.
To celebrate “Whatever, My Love,” the band, which includes bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Philips, opens a one-month tour of the country starting in Portland. The first show on Feb. 26 at Port City Music Hall dovetails with the trio’s last full live performance.
“I was looking through an old tour schedule book and March 1994 was our last tour date. So it’s almost exactly where we left off,” said Hatfield, on the phone from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
What will fans notice this time around?
“We have a better attitude. I appreciate them more now,” said Hatfield, who talks in a friendly, thoughtful manner. “There is a little bit more of an ease, not as much tension in the band. We’ve grown up a little bit.”
That hard-won wisdom, which came from years of turbulence, “makes everything more efficient. We are here to rock and that is it.”
Hatfield, 47, who suffered from depression at the time her career took off, now lives a more grounded, holistic life. She paints, draws and enjoys silence.
“It’s very Jungian,” she says.
Reuniting with her seminal band in her new state of peace fell together organically.
“This is not a grand scheme. It was more ‘Let’s try to make an album and see if it’s good.’ Then it was, ‘Let’s tour,’” she said.
“It will be cathartic in a way to revisit the music with fresh maturity and perspective and to be able to fully appreciate it,” she said. “I couldn’t before because I was a miserable wretch back then. Youth is wasted on the young.”
Her first order of business is performing their hit album “Become What You Are,” live in its entirety, front to back. The band will then segue into the new album. Songs like “Invisible” and uptempo “My Sister” will be a treat for longtime fans. A handful of songs on the new album are demos written years ago, but never fully recorded. New fans will gain perspective on her rock pop catalog.
“We are focusing on a mixture of new stuff and old stuff, turning it up to make it as good and vital as we can. It feels really fresh,” she said. “It will be really tight and rocking. I am happier now, more capable of the job.”
She’s got a strange magic
The aloof indie rocker of the ’90s was weaned on a surprisingly benign wave of music.
“My greatest, unconscious influence was 1970s AM pop radio,” she said.
“I would bring a transistor radio to bed with me and listen to all the pop hits of the ’70s, I was young and very impressionable. Soaking all this stuff up, it got into my blood,” she said.
“Bands like ELO [Electric Light Orchestra], Diana Ross, the song from Mahogany, The Little River Band, ABBA, that’s the stuff that got into my blood, my chords and my melodies …The Carpenter, Eagles, the Steve Miller Band,” she said without a drop of irony.
That classic radio diet fueled Hatfield’s timeless sound, which holds up decades later.
“I am never trying to model myself after anything in particular. I will always be the same. I don’t think my songs sound dated.”
Though raised in Duxbury, Massachusetts, Hatfield’s parents owned a home in Wiscasset, a former ship captain’s house that she says was haunted by the old salt.
“At night they could hear footsteps and someone walking back and forth in the hall,” she recalls. “I wasn’t born yet, but this is what they told me.”
She left Maine at a young age, but has roots here and vivid memories of the sea. Her father loved to sail up the coast.
“My father grew up in Indiana and became a fan of Maine. He went to Amherst College, Cornell Medical School and loved boats. He lived in Blue Hill for a while,” she said. “He loved Maine. I sailed to Monhegan Island with him. It was great stuff. When he died 10 years ago we scattered his ashes in a cove somewhere off Rockland.”
Playing Portland, where she has family, is somewhat of a homecoming. Though she is more nervous about performing in Boston, for an audience that may more critically scrutinize her, it’s clear Hatfield is comfortable in her skin. And this time around equipped to handle anything.
“I have very realistic expectations in terms of the cultural importance of this,” she said. “I think it’s more going to be fun for everyone. It’s been really nice playing with the band again.”